Donald Trump may be the Republican frontrunner, but it isn’t clear yet whether he’ll be able to lock up the nomination before the Republican National Convention this July.
It takes a majority of delegates to win the party’s presidential nomination, but GOP voters are now split among the candidates. So if no candidate accrues the needed number of delegates, we could see a “contested convention” in Cleveland.
Let’s break down what that means.
The conventions: Conventions are basically party pep rallies, where delegates officially pledge their support for a candidate, and the nominee is formally chosen.
The delegates: Delegates are people who are bound by party rules to vote for a particular candidate based on how the people in their state or district voted. That means candidates earn delegates in state primaries or caucuses. Some states award delegates proportionally, some award them on a winner-take-all basis and others use a method somewhere in between.
Once at the convention, the candidate with the magic number of delegates wins after the first round of voting and becomes as the party’s nominee in the general election. However, if no candidate comes to the convention with the support of the majority, cue the contested convention.
Here’s what happens: There is a first “ballot” in which all the delegates vote. Most are required to support the winner of their state or district. But when that fails to yield a majority vote — and a nominee — the convention goes into overtime. By the second ballot, most delegates can start voting for whomever they want. That’s when party leaders and each hopeful’s camp try to persuade delegates to throw their support behind their candidate. Sometimes you’ll hear this referred to as “brokered convention.” That term comes from the days when party leaders — who would control a group of delegates — acted as “brokers,” making deals to agree on a nominee.
The voting continues until someone finally hits the mark, and then the nominee is announced. So come summer, if you hear the phrase “contested convention,” at least you can say, “Now I get it.”